Medical Debt Resource Roundup

Overview From the Southern Partnership to Reduce Debt

Posted August 3, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

A woman holding a sheet of paper, sitting at a desk looking concerned, with a white couch behind her.

Families in the South — like all families — want to live healthy, financially secure lives. Yet many hard-working households in the region are grappling with crippling debt that undercuts their economic security.

Medical bills play a significant role in fueling this instability.

People of color are especially likely to struggle with this debt, as they disproportionately lack medical insurance, experience more health problems that require care, and generally have less wealth and income compared to white people.

The coronavirus pandemic has worsened these challenges, according to recent surveys and studies. Many Americans — including individuals who have unexpectedly lost their jobs and their associated health insurance during this crisis — are facing large medical bills after contracting COVID-19.

Issues associated with medical debt can grow over time. When reported to credit bureaus, unpaid hospital fees can chip away at an individual’s credit score and impact everything from their employment prospects to home purchasing power.

Elevating Medical Debt, Solutions

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Southern Partnership to Reduce Debt (SPRD) seeks to highlight problems associated with debt — including medical debt — and advocate for solutions on behalf of residents in several Southern states.

Below is a range of materials documenting problems and potential solutions associated with medical debt across the nation and in three SPRD states.

Arkansas

Can’t Win For Losing – How Institutions and Policies Keep Arkansans in Debt

By the Arkansas Community Institute

This report summarizes results from a survey of more than 1,000 residents in Arkansas’ Pulaski and Jefferson counties. It found that nearly half of all survey respondents had some form of medical debt.

The publication offers recommendations for how state policymakers can address problems related to health-care debt, including ending work requirements for the state’s Medicaid enrollees and improving the program’s service delivery. It also calls on hospitals to educate patients about financial assistance programs and to refrain from using debt-collection agencies for past-due bills.

Tennessee

Medical Debt in Tennessee: Who Has It and Why Does It Matter?

By The Sycamore Institute

This report examines medical debt as it relates to Tennessee residents. It finds that medical debt is common across most demographic and socioeconomic groups and more common among the uninsured, those with lower incomes or education levels, and people of color. It also illustrates how even small amounts of medical debt can hinder economic security and mobility by feeding debt cycles and reducing access to jobs, housing and wealth-building credit.

Medical Debt Case Study: Using Medicaid Coverage to Prevent Medical Debt

By Tennessee Justice Center

This paper outlines an initiative by the Tennessee Justice Center and local hospitals. It explores the center’s efforts to train and educate hospital staff on eliminating barriers to long-term Medicaid coverage as a means of preventing medical debt from amassing in the first place.

Texas

The Mountain of Medical Debt In Texas: People of Color Are Hit Harder in Texas Than Any Other Southern State

By Every Texan

This publication details the growing problem of medical debt in Texas, especially for Texans of color. The paper calls on Texas policymakers to expand access to health insurance and establish new protections for low-income patients who can’t afford medical care.

National Reports

Medical Debt and its Impacts on Health and Wealth: What Can Philanthropy Do to Help?

By the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program and Asset Funders Network

This report examines the toll of medical debt across the nation and identifies it as an issue that disproportionately impacts people of color. The document also shares a range of strategies that philanthropic institutions can support to help address this challenge.

An Ounce of Prevention: A Review of Hospital Financial Assistance Policies in the States

By National Consumer Law Center

This publication explores states’ support for hospital financial assistance plans, which can help facilitate free or highly discounted care for low-income and uninsured patients.

The report reviews each state’s approach, in terms of financial assistance and eligibility requirements, and takes a closer look at seven states with strong policies. These states — California, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island — all mandate that hospitals offer discounted or free care to certain patients with low incomes.

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